We spent a night on the grounds behind Dunalley Hotel. It's a pub and restaurant, not a hotel. There were some portable toilets on the grounds, you know threm from construction sites, and we could use the toilets inside at the pub's opening times. No showers, not even a water tap outside. It was raining and temperatures dropped to between 3 and 9˚C during the night.
Compared to many of the villagers we were not in a bad situation at all though, for us it was just for one night. For them it will last longer, some 35 houses have been wiped away by the recent bushfire. It had been a creepy ride that day, some 40 kilometers long we rode through blackened country and every now and then there were the ruins of a burnt down home. Not much remains of such an Australian house. As they are mostly built of wood it's just some corrugated iron, a chimney and some rubble that is left. Some people now live in a tent next to the rubble heap. Very strange also to note that the fire has been very selective, one house gone, the house next to it unscaved. Some houses set alight because of the fire coming very close, some by flying imbers. We spoke a man who had owned three holiday cottages. They were completely gone. His own house, some meters away, stood and was in perfect order. His neighbour; gone. No explanation. He told us that, looking at the fire on the hill 3 kilometers away and considering the direction of the wind, he said his “famous last words” to his wife: “I think we'll be alright”. Then the wind changed and seven minutes later the fire was at his house. It's a beach house and they stood in the water untill it passed. The speed with which it travelled was tremendous, faster than a car.
A lot is done to get things going again. The government has aid-plans, publishes a magazine on the subject, tries to make access to aid easy. On the campground there were big tents, like used for events. One of them had housed the Red Cross and such groups, in the other one volunteers were sorting out large amounts of clothes, shoes, household utensils and other things that had been given by people to help those who had lost everything. A benefit-concert had been organised, the two big Australian supermarket chains Woolworth's and Coles donated the profit of one dedicated day and, since the fires in Victoria two years ago, there is an organisation called Blazeaid that co-ordinates help by volunteers, of which there are many.
Now there have been disasters like this one in Dunalley and surrounds almost every year recently. The Victorian one cost many lives, some hundreds of houses were lost. In New South Wales just over a week ago, it was very bad. Though a lot is already being done, I think this country needs a new and overall masterplan as how to prevent bushfires and when they happen, how to minimise damage. This might imply a new approach to bush management and building restrictions as well, and these are items that come very close to the Australian soul. Won't be easy.
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